“Shrink Wrap”

Throughout the new book published by Kids Konnected titled Love Sick, the comments or advice written by Lynnette Wilhardt, MSW, LCSW is labeled “Shrink Wrap”. A fun play on words, I think…  So as I continue to post on the questions that Lynnette is most frequently asked I thought this same label may be appropriate.

How do I tell my child I have cancer?

Most importantly, be as honest as you possibly can.  Children can tell when you are telling only half of the story.  Parents need to start with a basic explanation of what cancer is.

Cancer occurs when cells begin to grow and multiply in an uncontrolled way.

Normal body cells grow and divide over a period of time until they eventually die. But cancer cells continue to grow and divide and grow and divide. Eventually, they gather to form tumors. Tumors are lumps that can interfere with the body’s normal processes. Sometimes cells from a tumor break away and travel to a different tissue or organ. This is called metastasis.

As scary as all this sounds, most cancers can be treated and controlled and many people with cancer get better and lead normal lives.

After you have explained cancer, it is important to dispel any myths your children may have about cancer.  Here are some that come up frequently in our support groups: 

 –          Explain that cancer is not contagious.  Your children can and should still kiss you!:)  It is not like having a cold or flu.


–          Children cannot “cause” cancer.  It doesn’t matter how naughty a child is, they do not cause cancer.


When should I tell my child?


It is important to tell your child as soon as you have all the information you need to explain to your child your diagnosis and treatment.  The longer you wait to tell your child, the more they may sense that something is wrong and not understand why they aren’t being allowed in the “loop.”  It can also be detrimental to the child to hear about the diagnosis from someone else and not directly from their parents.


How much information should I give them? 

This depends a lot on your child.  Some children will want a lot of information, while others will not want to hear much at all.  It is important to tell your child as much as they may want to hear.  Watch for cues that they may be experiencing information overload and know when to stop.  In general, information is empowering, so if your child wants a lot of information then you should provide it to them.  It can also be empowering taking your child to your oncology appointments if they want to attend; this allows them to ask the doctor or nurse some of the questions that you may not be able to answer. 

My breast surgeon was also in agreement with telling the children the truth… Kids are very perceptive and they will hear you talking on the phone. We had a family meeting at our house when the kids got home from school. My course of treatment did change after we first told them, but they knew first. It probably will be one of the hardest talks we will ever have to have with our children, I know it was for me.

4 Responses to “Shrink Wrap”

  1. sprucehillfarm says:

    Good post. Me too the hardest thing I will ever have to tell my kids! Very hard.

  2. Victoria says:

    The wise advice you give is pretty much what my husband and I did twenty years ago when he was diagnosed. Our daughters, nine and four then, believe that we handled telling them well and give similar advice now, as grown women, to friends who unfortunately need to have the cancer conversation with their children. SO I’m commenting to give a good review of your advice, with a twenty year track record.

  3. Victoria,

    Thank you for your comment. Lynnette has worked with cancer and families for many years and she is wonderful. I am lucky to live close to have my children benefit from her personally. The truth is sometimes hard but in the end the best in many areas of life.

  4. We are also completely open and honest with our kids.

    Recently, my eldest daughter made some outrageous comment about cancer. I turned to her with a shocked look and she said “I’m joking, mommy”

    It was like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders.

    If she can joke about cancer, then we have “normalized” it. It’s not some big, giant scary thing that causes nightmares.

    It’s just another annoying thing that is part of life.

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